Instilling Family Values

By: Other | April 22, 2016

Written by Jennifer Wendt, Ph.D.

Values are instilled at the heart of every family. They are the values that we feel are important to uphold when living our lives and interacting with our world. If asked what values are important in your family, some values may be bold and obvious while others may be a quiet undercurrent. Either way it is a universal experience to grow up in a family that instills certain values.

When looking up the definition to the word “family values” you can find the following: the moral and ethical principles traditionally upheld and transmitted within a family (, 2016). Every family forms a set of principles it views as important. Some values are intentionally emphasized and some values are quietly modeled and expected. These values commonly become the core of who we are and how we operate within the world. If you think about the family you were raised in, you are likely able to recognize certain values that you continue to find important today.

There is a wide range of values people can select as principles they wish to uphold within a family. Here is a small sample list:

honesty, loyalty, respect, helping others, health, courage, family, friendship, creativity, wisdom, curiosity, trust, teamwork, spirituality, legacy, problem solving, fun, knowledge, achievement, ambition, community, fairness, personal growth, authenticity, stability, contribution, integrity, recognition, tradition, adventure, prosperity, resolving conflict, service, generosity, happiness, leadership, reliability, timeliness, humility, self-respect…

The list of values can be endless, yet there are usually a few principles that resonate most strongly with a person. When the sight or sound of a value strikes a chord within you, it indicates that it is important to you and of fundamental value. When raising a family it becomes important to consider which values you feel are important to instill in your children. Whether your children are toddlers or teens, it is not too late to support and encourage specific values.

How To Decide Which Values To Instill?

Talk about it!
Have a discussion with your spouse or co-parent. Make it a family discussion if the children are old enough. If you are a single parent you can write down your ideas or talk with loved ones about your thoughts. When you read or create a list of values, it will likely be a lengthy list. As you evaluate the list you may find that all of them seem important to instill in your family over time.

Select Values
Decide which values you already find important, which values you are already encouraging one another to uphold and which new values you wish to focus on. This list can change as your family evolves.

Engage in an Activity
A fun activity can be to create a Family Crest. Draw a crest (like a shield) and section the crest into several segments, each one representing a family value. Family members can help design the artwork or symbols that represent each value.

How to Instill Family Values

The most powerful teaching tool we have is to lead by example. Ask yourself, “am I demonstrating how to be kind/honest/fair…….?” Our actions help our children learn what it means to uphold certain values. If you make a mistake it’s important to demonstrate that you are human as well and acknowledge what you would have done differently. This approach allows children to learn that it is ok to make mistakes and to show that we can improve upon our behavior.

Praise and Encouragement
Praise family members for behaving in ways that uphold the family values. You can do this verbally or even with a system such as a marble jar. When someone is observed to uphold a family value, a marble can be placed in a jar to celebrate. Filling the marble jar can lead to a fun family activity. Samples of praise:

“Nice teamwork family”
“Thanks for being fair in your decision”
“I like the way you helped your sister with her project”

Acknowledge Attempts/Struggles
When a family member is struggling to act in a way that upholds the family values, providing acknowledgement and support can help them understand the dilemma. Samples of acknowledgment:

“I noticed you were trying to be loyal to your friend when you were faced with a difficult decision”
“I can see that you are trying to be authentic but you are getting pressure to do something else”

As you reflect on which values you are already building into the foundation of your family, you can decide when to emphasize additional values. Your children will often show you which value is important to learn next by their current life experiences. Instilling values will help each family member learn the power of their actions and the importance of upholding moral and ethical values.

Image: Louise Leclerc on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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